Foot-dragging firms slow down e-Britain

Too many UK companies are holding back from going online, or not doing enough once they get there

The UK's business sector is still failing to take full advantage of the Internet, according to research published this week by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

The CBI's latest regional survey of UK economic trends found that one in three companies still hasn't got a Web site, and only half of them are planning to implement one in the next 12 months. Keeping a Web site up to date also appears to be a challenge for many UK firms. One-fifth of those with an online presence leave their Web site unchanged for over a year, according to the CBI, which is concerned that such companies are failing to utilise the full value of information and communication technology.

"The Internet is becoming increasingly important as a source of information, and as an advertising and sales medium," pointed out the CBI in its report. "Reflecting this, three-quarters of all businesses in England and Wales use the Internet to gather information, over half use it to advertise, over a half to place orders, a third to receive business-to-business orders, and a quarter to receive consumer-to business orders," it added. Companies who aren't online, therefore, are missing countless business opportunities.

The survey found the email is also struggling to penetration the inner sanctum of many companies. Three-quarters of firms say they use email for external communications, but only half use it for internal communication -- a number dropping to 40 percent for businesses in Wales.

Some companies, though, may welcome an email-free zone, amid concern that electronic messaging can actually hamper productivity.

John Caudwell, chief executive of high street mobile retailers Phones 4U, recently banned all his staff from using email across the business -- a move he claimed would save them three hours a day.